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A so-so tribute - 63%

EzraBlumenfeld, November 15th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Metal Blade Records

Swedish melodeath viking metallers Amon Amarth decided to pay some respect to their early inspirations on Under the Influence. Instead of taking the obvious route and covering a song by each band, the fearsome five instead chose to write a tune in the style of each group. While blessed with a few inspiring and cool moments throughout its 16-minute course, much of it comes off as lazy and unoriginal.

"Burning Anvil of Steel" is a tribute to Judas Priest. This song sees Amon Amarth sacrificing their heavy guitar tone for a more "classic" sound and riffing style, but when Johan Hegg tries to use his typical growl over this lighter tone it sounds unbalanced and badly made. "Satan Rising" is the best song on the record, a tribute to Ozzy-era Black Sabbath. The riffs are heavy and doom-laden just like Iommi's, and Hegg even pulls of a pretty great Osbourne impression. "Snake Eyes" sounds like Motorhead right from the get-go, with an obvious "we play Rock 'N' Roll" feel to it. Hegg's signature guttural even manages to make itself sound like Kilmister himself. "Stand Up to Go Down" is the oddball on this album, with simple AC/DC style riffs and growled lyrics riddled with sexual innuendos.

I bought this album along with Deceiver of the Gods as part of a $22 package at a festival that Amon Amarth was playing at. I don't regret this purchase, although I never would have bought Under the Influence as a standalone album. It's too short and somewhat uninspired in the sense that they seem to draw from only the most obvious stylings of the four bands.

All in all, this is a decent tribute album that's worth maybe a listen on a streaming service, but isn't really good enough to be bought by itself. The riffs are too basic and generic to be entertaining, and the whole thing ends up coming off as a cash grab.

Entertaining Emulation - 80%

Five_Nails, October 6th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Metal Blade Records

In four original songs that pay some metal homage, Amon Amarth gives you a look into what they could have been if they had been born of a different breed. This direction is a creative, nostalgic, and fun veneration of the styles of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and AC/DC. You can find this EP dressed in a black sleeve at the bottom of your copy of “Deceiver of the Gods”. Inside the sleeve is a lyrics sheet that folds out to a small poster with the band's name in the typeface of each band they're emulating. I think it looks best in the AC/DC typeface, straightforward and in-your-face.

“Burning Anvil of Steel” could very well be a Judas Priest original. Amon Amarth do some great guitar on this harmonizing back and forth and really riffing it down. The anvil pounding and chant is the exact kind of Judas Priest cheesiness that solidifies this song. The lyrics are great because they could easily fit as a Priest or an Amon Amarth song. I wonder what it would be like if Johan Hegg was trying Halford's high voice though, that would be a trip.

Even so, it's unusual to hear some clean singing from Hegg, and in trying to emulate what seems like an early '70s Ozzy it's even weirder. “Satan Rising” has a fantastic guitar sound with more doom than the blues I was hoping for. I expected to hear them emulating a much earlier Sabbath from the sound they gave it, but the song still works and has a fantastic drive near the end.

The Motorhead cover is a bass-heavy ripper about gambling. What more could you ask for in a cover of a band that made their way taking every chance in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle? The solo tears you up and the harmony spits you out into a glass of filthy riffing whiskey. The song has the kind of grit and frenzy you'd expect from Motorhead with that signature rough-and-tumble tone that makes it sound like it was recorded in a bar rather than a studio.

It's not surprising that a band which has really hammered down their brand for so long would be influenced by a band that has made millions from playing the same song over and over. The AC/DC cover absolutely nails it. This one has every AC/DC element, the simple guitar riff with rocking drums, the very obviously sexual lyrics that got me laughing out loud, and a textbook, straightforward, rock and roll formula that has become a legend of the genre. I'm sure the real AC/DC would get a kick out of a stanza like “some fellas like their women short, some fellas like 'em round, but me I like the kind of girl, that makes me stand up to go down!” That's a flat out hilarious limerick that reminds me of “Whole Lotta Rosie”.

In all, this is a fantastic addition to “Deceiver of the Gods” and gives it a unique quality we've not seen from Amon Amarth before. The Motorhead and AC/DC songs would be great additions to any drinking playlist and they'd all be great songs to hear live, but I don't expect we'll see Amon Amarth playing any of these songs between the pyrotechnics during “Death in Fire” and the sword fighting during “We Shall Destroy”.

Versatile Work Outside Their Area of Expertise - 85%

rastronomicals, December 17th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Metal Blade Records

Beyond the quite-wonderful "Viking Metal" phrase, I hadn't been all that familiar with Amon Amarth. Then I heard that they were headlining a show a while back with Enslaved and Skeletonwitch as support. And since there was no question, because of my fandom for Enslaved, and my interest in Skeletonwitch, that I was going to get my geriatric ass to that show, I figured it'd be a good idea to buy Amon Amarth's latest, just so I could be sort of familiar with the headliners when I did.

Turned out I bought some kind of deluxe version of Deceiver of the Gods, which included this EP, and good thing I did.

While there are some good examples out there (I'll recommend Coverkill in addition to the Metallica and Slayer and Rush stuff you'd already think of), the cover album over the last ten years has become something of a cliche. But though it pays tribute to Mötörhead, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest, Under the Influence is not a cover album (or EP). Instead, Amon Amarth wrote and recorded four new songs of their own, one each in the style of the bands mentioned.

It was a risky thing to do, if you think about it. If you miss the mark, the whole thing falls flat on its face. You look like a bunch of highfalutin' idiots, and besides, with all due respect to Amon Amarth--I liked the melodic death approach of Deceiver of the Gods quite a bit--they're probably not as good as any of the bands they pay tribute to here, excepting perhaps AC/DC.

But they pulled it off. On each of the four songs, you know for certain within 30 seconds which band is being, umm, tributed. Amon Amarth nail it both musically and lyrically. The AC/DC tune is characteristic of the Aussies in that it is both singlemindedly concerned with sex, and hilarious, both things as they should be. "Stand Up to Go Down" is full of double- and single- entendres, sort of the only place you could still go after "Whole Lotta Rosie." And you'll swear it's Angus playing the solo.

Johan Hegg sings the Sabbath tune ("Satan Rising," natch) with uncharacteristic clean vocals that actually end up sounding a bit like Ozzy when he dropped down, and it ends with a characteristic production trick. And Amon Amarth have quite the feel for proto-doom, how about that?

Hegg sounds a little bit like Lemmy (probably because the esteemed Mr. Kilmeister is about as guttural as you can get outside the death metal scene), but "Snake Eyes," like the AC/DC riff, is also particularly on target with the lyrics, which covers the Kilmeister fascination with gambling, and even manages to name-drop "Born to Lose."

The Priest tune probably faces the biggest challenge, because Hegg sounds nothing like Rob Halford. But Amon Amarth get the twin-lead attack down, as well as the Priestian shout chorus.

Under the Influence gets a whole bunch of the details right, and is exceedingly clever, to boot. Again, something like this would have been very easy to botch. Amon Amarth's home field so to speak is melodic death metal, yet they show a wonderful facility with styles not their own on Under the Influence. Not to make it more than what it is, but it's undeniably a fascinating and deft achievement.

Four Stars.

Good influences... mixed results - 70%

Xyrth, December 10th, 2015

The idea of composing tunes with a style reminiscent of a certain, influential band as a tribute of some kind is not bad at all. Some bands, such as Thulcandra, Entrails, Orchid or Blazon Stone, even manage to build a career by copying the style and overall aesthetics of a renowned band. Like it or not, in greater or lesser degree, some of those bands truly carry the scent and spirit of their primal influence. Some may argue it might be more interesting than just covering the desired band, but of course, that depends on the quality of the resulting compositions. With this little EP, Sweden's most beloved berserkers tried to pay homage to their classic metal influences; four bands, four tunes. Are they as successful as the bands I mentioned before? Well…

“Burning Anvil of Steel” is a Judas Priest tribute, reminiscent of their early 80s stuff, lets say something that could have been found on British Steel or Point of Entry. It's a mid-paced, fist-pumping, hard rock-ish number, and one can easily picture this song with the Metal God singing to it, as it is similar in spirit to “Living After Midnight” or “You've Got Another Thing Comin'”. But in his place we've got Johan Hegg's trademark hoarse gruff and it sounds… funny here. I'd rather listening them composing something more challenging, like the faster, more complex songs found in Defenders of the Faith or Painkiller, which I think are more suitable to Hegg's barbaric vocals, though he attempts a high-pitched scream at the end of the tune. But that's not the case, and this song, while peculiar, is not particularly enticing.

“Satan Rising” it's an obvious Ozzy-era Black Sabbath tribute, with doom-esque heavy riffs, mid to slow tempos, and Johan's pretty good impersonation of the Prince of Darkness himself. This is my favorite track of the EP, it's fun and it's well done. Around the 2:10 minute mark, and eerie melody starts, more similar to the melodic extreme metal found in the Vikings homeland than to anything Sabbath attempted, but at the same time it fits perfectly into the composition. So, while it definitely has the Sabbath sound, the Swedes manage to inject some of their own to it. At the 2:45 mark, the song accelerates a bit, to a faster conclusion not unlike the end of “Iron Man” or “Lord of this World”.

“Snake Eyes” is a Motörhead track, forceful and speedy, and Johan switches back to this usual gruffly self. The riffs are pretty similar to “Iron Fist” and their ilk. This should be fun, but ends up as the least exciting tune of the EP. It’s extremely predictable and lacks personality. And so, finally, we arrive to the AC-DC number, “Stand Up to Go Down”. Unsurprisingly, it is another mid-paced, hard rock-ish track in which Johan uses his regular death grunts, so it's not very different from the opening song. But the chorus is amusing and the solo well done, without being extraordinary, so I'd probably rank this as the second best track of the release.

Even though in general it is an amusing listen, I believe there's just not much to give this EP great value. It's not like they're going to play this stuff live. I don't know the story behind this recording, but probably they just did it to relax between takes while recording Deceiver of the Gods, and they decided to release it with the Special Edition of that album. The cover artwork didn't took them too much thinking either, so obviously, not great effort was put into this. However good their idea, I believe if they have took things more seriously, better compositions could have surfaced. But alas, here it is. Now, I'm going to listen to With Oden on Our Side, if you excuse me…

A great tribute to some excellent bands - 85%

surtursbane, December 15th, 2013

I was excited to hear that Amon Amarth had written songs in the styles of 4 of their favorite bands but was a bit worried that the band would be unable to write in other bands' styles well enough and that this EP would suck. My fears proved to be unfounded. Under the Influence is a fantastic tribute to the bands Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and AC/DC.

Burning Anvil of Steel: I've never been a huge fan of Judas Priest, but I like them enough for me to recognize that Amon Amarth had managed to write a song that they would be proud of. The slightly cheesy fantasy lyrics matched perfectly with the music, making this an excellent tribute to one of the pioneers of heavy metal. Johan's usual bear growl is tempered to make it try to fit earlier heavy metal and while it shouldn't work, it does.

Satan Rising: I don't know how they did it, but this song sounds almost exactly like early Black Sabbath. Even the vocals. When I first heard this my mind was blown. I had to stop and listen closer to make sure that it wasn't really Ozzy on vocals. Every riff sounded like it could have come from Tony Iommi. The only real differences were that this was a song written for two guitars and the drums didn't quite sound like Bill Ward. This song could be placed on Paranoid and fit in perfectly.

Snake Eyes: Once again I don't listen to much Motorhead, but lyrically this is very similar to what I have heard. The riffs and drums fit in well with what I've heard from Motorhead as well. Johan altered his guttural roar again to fit this style of hard drinkin' heavy metal and once again it works well.

Stand Up To Go Down: This is perhaps my favorite of the songs on this EP. Johan didn't seem to try to match Brian Johnson or Bon Scott, instead he kept his usual roar toned down to fit the music. Other than the vocals this song could have been written by AC/DC. The guitar riffs fit, the drums are rock and roll, the lyrics fit the late 70s and early 80s incredibly well. There are a few points where Amon Amarth doesn't quite match AC/DC's style but this is a very good song.